Pregnancy Nutrition Tips
By: Lyndsay Hall, Registered Dietitian, BASc, Reviewed & Edited by JM Nutrition Team
In Pregnancy Nutrition Tips, registered dietitian for prenatal care, Lyndsay Hall, takes a close look at fundamental nutritional advice for a healthy pregnancy.
Pregnancy Nutrition Tips
Pregnancy Nutrition Tip 1: Avoid Eating For Two
Unquestionably, this is an important piece of dietary advice for pregnancy.
‘Eating for two’ is a common misconception when it comes to prenatal nutrition. It is a common assumption by those who are pregnant that because they are nourishing a growing fetus–and soon-to-be human, their caloric needs are doubled. This, however, is not the case. As such, this is the first piece of dietary advice for pregnancy we will tackle.
When you’re pregnant, your caloric needs do not change at all during the first trimester of pregnancy. It is in the second and third trimester, where increased energy intake is required.
On a daily basis, around 350 extra calories are required during the second trimester of pregnancy, and about 450 extra calories are required during the third trimester of pregnancy¹. This can, of course, vary depending on the person and their pre-pregnancy BMI, rate of weight gain, age, exercise level and so on.
You can discuss your specific caloric needs or other pregnancy diet tips with a health care provider, such as your doctor or a registered dietitian.
What about micronutrient needs?
When it comes to certain micronutrient needs, however, that is where a greater increase in intake is required. There is a substantial increase in the recommended dietary intake of iron and folate, specifically, during pregnancy. This piece of dietary advice for pregnancy is no doubt important.
Iron, folate, Vitamin D
Iron needs increase by 50% or 9mg per day during pregnancy. Folate needs also increase by 50% or 200mcg per day during pregnancy¹. Requirements for other nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, however, do not change¹.
It is for this reason, that at the very least, it is important to supplement additional iron and folic acid during pregnancy¹. Again, this can vary from person to person, depending on dietary intake prior to conception and during pregnancy (i.e. ethical dietary preferences, cultural dietary preferences, religious dietary preferences, etc.). Vitamin D is beneficial to supplement during pregnancy (or not) for many Canadians or those living in a northern latitude, at least during the winter months (October-April).
Interestingly, although they are not increased substantially during pregnancy, vitamin C and vitamin A needs are nearly doubled whilst breastfeeding¹. This is why it is advised to take a prenatal vitamin or multivitamin postpartum as well, so long as you are breastfeeding anyway.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Another important piece of dietary advice for pregnancy revolves around Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a nutrient that I tend to pay special attention to when providing nutrition counselling to pregnant clients. This is because many prenatal vitamins and multivitamins do not necessarily contain EPA and/or DHA–the two main chains of omega-3-fatty-acids.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that you need to be taking an omega-3 supplement, but it is at least important to be mindful of your dietary intake of omega-3. Reason being, the needs for this nutrient are also increased during pregnancy.
For those who eat fish, specifically fatty fish such as salmon, eating two (3-ounce) servings per week of this fish alone can meet your requirements².
For those who do not eat fish, on the other hand, rest assured that there are other omega-3-rich foods you can consume to help you meet your needs. Chia seeds, ground flaxseed (as an ingredient in food only), walnuts, hemp hearts, canola oil and edamame are omega-3-rich plant-based sources².
Seeking support from a registered dietitian is also a great way to ensure you are meeting your micronutrient needs during pregnancy, along with being able to receive other nutritional advice for a healthy pregnancy.
Does fluid intake change during pregnancy?
This is another common question and a fundamental pregnancy nutrition tip.
Fluid needs certainly increase as well, as blood volume rises significantly throughout pregnancy.
If you’re pregnant, 2.5L of fluids per day is recommended.
It is important to note that individual needs can also be impacted by other coexisting health conditions (i.e. diabetes, autoimmune conditions, etc.), in addition to pregnancies with multiples (i.e. twins, triplets, etc.).
Related: Water intake during pregnancy
Rate of weight gain
Rate of weight gain and/or monitoring of weight gain throughout pregnancy can be helpful in providing guidance as to whether or not you are eating adequately and meeting your nutritional needs.
Health Canada has a pregnancy weight gain calculator, which allows you to determine a projected amount of weight to gain during your pregnancy, based on your pre-pregnancy BMI. This resource also gives you sense of the expected rate of weight gain, which tends to fall in line with the increase in caloric needs throughout pregnancy. Many gain most of their pregnancy weight during the latter half of the second trimester, and throughout the third trimester.
Pregnancy Nutrition Tip 2: Combatting ‘Morning Sickness’ (Nausea and/or Vomiting)
During pregnancy you can fall victim to morning sickness, or some degree of nausea or vomiting, at least early on in their pregnancy.
In fact, it’s suggested that anywhere from 50 to 90% of those who are pregnant experience these symptoms³. Fluctuations in various hormone levels are likely to blame. There are, however, here are some studies suggesting that this could be a defence mechanism against potential teratogenic substances³.
The good news is that for most these unpleasant symptoms tend to resolve shortly after reaching the second trimester. That said, however, for an unlucky 10-20%, they can continue until the end of pregnancy³.
If you are someone struggling with ongoing nausea and/or vomiting, especially if it is to the point of causing unintentional weight loss or inability to gain weight, it is important to consult a health care professional for treatment options.
This is a significant piece of nutritional advice for a healthy pregnancy, integral to ensuring that you are meeting all of your nutrient requirements.
When it comes to managing nausea and/or vomiting via diet or nutrition, rest assured that there are tricks that can help.
Consider the following pregnancy diet tips for combating nausea and vomiting:
a) Eat small, frequent meals
This is no doubt an important piece of nutritional advice for pregnancy nausea and vomiting.
When it comes to nausea or vomiting, regardless of the etiology, we often advise eating small, frequent meals–every 2-3 hours or so.
There are a couple of benefits to doing this.
The first is that when you have less food taking up space in your stomach, you are less likely to experience that feeling of fullness, which can exacerbate nausea and/or vomiting.
The other benefit is that if you are to vomit, you are vomiting a smaller volume of food, and less nutrients are likely to be lost.
b) Sip on fluids gradually throughout the day
This is another one of the pregnancy diet tips pertaining to nausea and vomiting worth serious consideration.
Taking small sips of fluids in between or during meals and snacks, allows you to ensure that you are staying hydrated throughout the day. An additional advantage is that you are less likely to fill up off of fluids by doing this, allowing more room for food and nutrients to be consumed. For some, even a large volume of water sitting in their stomach can cause nausea and/or vomiting.
Related: How much water should I drink?
c) Include energy-dense foods in your diet
Energy-dense essentially means calorie-dense. Incorporating foods that pack a lot of calories in a small volume, can help ensure that you are eating enough when you are feeling nauseous and your appetite is low.
Examples of energy-dense foods include:
Nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter, avocado, oil (i.e. olive oil, canola oil, etc.), coconut (i.e. milk, dried, yogurt, etc.) and high-fat dairy products (i.e. butter, cheese, high-fat yogurt, etc.).
As you may have noticed, it is generally foods that fall into the ‘fats’ category that tend to be calorie-dense. Something to note if you have any history of high cholesterol or cardiovascular risk, is to try and stick to plant-based fats as much as possible.
d) Get creative with vegetables
Another piece of dietary advice for pregnancy, when is comes to combatting nausea and/or vomiting, centres around the consumption of vegetables.
Those who battle nausea and/or vomiting tend not to crave vegetables. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them.
To make sure you are getting the nutrients that vegetables have to offer, however, try and sneak them into your diet wherever possible.
Add frozen vegetables or greens such as spinach to smoothies. Another way to add grated carrot and/or zucchini to a variety of baked goods, oatmeal, meatballs, etc. Furthermore, numerous vegetables can be disguised in pureed soups . Alternatively, if you have the appetite for fruit, fruits can offer many of the same micronutrients as vegetables–just be mindful of the natural sugars they contain.
Related: How to add vegetables to your diet
e) Always pair protein and carbs together
When you’re feeling unwell, carbohydrate-containing foods tend to be a ‘safe’ option. Think toast, soda crackers, bananas et al.
It is really important, however, to make sure you keep on top of your protein needs during these tough times, as they are increased during pregnancy. This is another crucial pregnancy diet tip that should not be overlooked.
Try and make it a habit that every time you reach for a carbohydrate-based food, to pair some kind of protein with it. Do so, even if that means it is a piece of cheese or a spoonful of peanut butter. Not only does this help you keep up with your protein requirements, but it also enables you to regulate your blood sugar level.
Doing so can, in turn, help increase energy level. It may also help to prevent the development of gestational diabetes later on in pregnancy.
Pregnancy Nutrition Tip 3: Foods to Limit and/or Avoid During Pregnancy
This is perhaps one of the most inquired about topics pertaining to prenatal nutrition, at least in my practice. As such, it is also crucial nutritional advice for a healthy pregnancy.
The reason for this oft-inquired about topic is that there is a great deal of conflicting information online, leaving many expectant parents confused and uninformed.
To provide some clarity, below is a list of the main foods/substances that you should limit or avoid throughout pregnancy:
This is likely the most well-known substance to avoid during pregnancy. Nonetheless, it is critical. As such, no pregnancy nutrition tips list would be complete without reiterating this all-important point.
There is no research to support safe consumption alcohol during pregnancy4.
b) High-mercury fish
High-mercury fish is fish such as swordfish, shark, marlin, tuna steak, escolar and orange roughy. You are advised to limit these to no more than ~5 ounces per month4.
In addition, canned white or albacore tuna is the higher mercury variety of canned tuna. It is recommended to limit this fish to no more than 10 ounces per week (~2.5 large cans)4.
Canned light or skipjack tuna, on the other hand, is the low-mercury variety. For this reason there is no recommended limit to consumption of this type of canned tuna4.
Fish you can consume
The following list of fish can also be consumed regularly throughout pregnancy4:
- canned, light tuna
- pollock (Boston bluefish)
- Atlantic mackerel
- lake white fish
c) Herbal, amino acid and soy protein supplements
Dietary advice for pregnancy should also include information on matters about which we do not have complete or conclusive evidence. Herbal, amino acid and soy protein supplements fall into this category. Typically, you should avoid these during pregnancy due to the lack of research on their consumption during pregnancy4.
d) Certain herbs
Below is a comprehensive list of herbs that have reported adverse effects on prenatal outcome4:
Below is a list of herbs that have not been researched enough to confirm whether they are safe for consumption or not during pregnancy4:
- Japanese mint
- lemon balm
- red bush tea (Rooibos tea)
- wild yam
There are, however, a few herbs that have been deemed safe for consumption during pregnancy, specifically in the form of herbal tea, so long as they are consumed in quantities no greater than 2-3 (250mL) cups per day4. They are as follows:
- bitter orange/orange peel
- red raspberry leaf
- rose hip
How much caffeine should I consume?
Canadian guidelines suggest consuming no more than 300mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy4.
To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to just over 2 standard cups of coffee, or up to 6 cups of tea4.
If you have never been one to consume caffeine though, the herbal teas listed above can be a nice, hot drink as an alternative to plain water. Just be sure to consume them in moderation.
f) Beef liver
It is advised to avoid beef liver during the first trimester. This is due to its high vitamin A content4. During the second and third trimester, it is advised to consume it in moderation4.
g) Food safety
We must tackle the topic of food safety, when discussing pregnancy nutrition tips. It is also a topic many are familiar with.
Undercooked animal protein, deli meats/cold cuts and unpasteurized products are the main food groups to avoid, but produce can be another area of potential concern4.
It is also best to avoid raw sprouts, due to their optimal breeding ground for bacteria4.
What’s more, I generally advise purchasing produce that can be washed and/or cooked before consumption. If you eat raw fruits and vegetables, try your best to cut them up yourself or purchase them in sealed packages, as opposed to buying produce that is prepped in-house at the grocery store.
h) Sugar substitutes/sweeteners
This is another important piece of dietary advice for pregnancy. Sugar substitutes or sweeteners are to be used in moderation, while pregnant5.
We certainly hop that this list of fundamental pieces of dietary advice for pregnancy is of help to you and your baby during this incredibly important time. If you you feel we missed any pregnancy diet tips or nutritional advice that you feel should be on the list, please get in touch and let us know. We will happily add them in.
If you’re interested in receiving personalized nutritional counselling, book a free consultation and we will gladly lend a hand.
References and Resources
3. Soma-Pillay P, Nelson-Piercy C, Tolppanen H, Mebazaa A. Physiological changes in pregnancy. Cardiovasc J Afr. 2016 Mar-Apr;27(2):89-94. doi: 10.5830/CVJA-2016-021. PMID: 27213856; PMCID: PMC4928162.
4. Nutrition Working Group; O’Connor DL, Blake J, Bell R, Bowen A, Callum J, Fenton S, Gray-Donald K, Rossiter M, Adamo K, Brett K, Khatri N, Robinson N, Tumback L, Cheung A. Canadian Consensus on Female Nutrition: Adolescence, Reproduction, Menopause, and Beyond. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2016 Jun;38(6):508-554.e18. doi: 10.1016/j.jogc.2016.01.001. Epub 2016 May 14. Erratum in: J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2018 Feb;40(2):268. PMID: 27368135.
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Lyndsay Hall is a registered dietitian in Mississauga, ON. She conducts nutritional counselling for a wide variety of matters, including prenatal and postnatal nutrition support, offering nutritional advice for healthy pregnancy, including personalized pregnancy diet tips. Lyndsay has appeared in a variety of publications, including Reader’s Digest, Toronto Star, Today’s Parent and more. Watch: Dietitian Lyndsay Hall talks about her nutritional counselling.
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